Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of being able to attend a school in Leicester for one of my many side-projects, which is something the uni runs called ‘Pathways to Law’. It’s all about teaching children from underprivileged backgrounds about pursuing a career in law.
The day began and I was excited! My team and I sat in the taxi deciding what slides to present; today was all about teaching them how to develop their CVs, how to gain work experience and develop your personal brand.
As I wandered into the school I felt a strange sense of nostalgia. Children in uniforms were buzzing around as we had to sign in at reception. I do miss my school days from time to time. I miss the lessons and the variation of studying so many different subjects. Although, I was pleasantly surprised to find that at uni it’s easier than you think to find something to wear each day. I wouldn’t change where I am now, but I have very fond memories of my time at secondary school, so it was rather emotional being in that sort of environment again!
We headed to the classroom where the walls where plastered with colourful displays and key words. It all seems like such a strange novelty. Now, however, I was at the front of the class instead of in the audience.
After we helped the children, who were all in year 10 so around 15 years old, with the first activity on CVs, I began my presentation. I asked them all about what words they associated with the logos of certain companies. This was all in an attempt to get them to recognise the importance of getting what you’re all about across to potential employers.
I spoke to them about how you have to know your strengths and be able to back them up with examples. The class struggled, at first, to think of useful experiences they’ve had. But, after some prompting, they realised that even a part-time job as a tennis coach or by doing the paper round illustrated some useful transferable skills – even for law!
Next up we split into groups and I asked them to think about what their strengths were. It surprised me how little confidence they had in themselves. One girl responded to my question with “I don’t have any strengths.” My heart sank. After further discussion she realised that there were things she was good at, but there was a stark reluctance to acknowledge them. The children seemed to feel arrogant if they could identify anything good about themselves. It was astounding for me, personally, when so much of our university life in terms of job-searching involves selling ourselves.
I got them up on their feet, next, to give them a bit more energy. A tip I learned from a friend was one of ‘power stances’ which involves opening your body up as much as possible. We opened our arms as wide as we could and stood like starfish, swinging around. The 15 year-olds were not impressed, which was quite funny. We end up doing such ridiculous things at university, it’s such a surreal bubble of life, so someone getting you to get up and stand like the biggest starfish possible seems relatively normal. But in the midst of teenage embarrassment, they took a little bit of convincing. After a few giggles and informing them that this is psychologically proven to increase your confidence, we proceeded with the next activity.
I asked for volunteers and I was met with silence, of course. Therefore, I called upon one of the boys who had identified one of his strengths as confidence. I proceeded to ask him to pretend I was from a law firm and to self himself as if he were looking to be employed by me. I shook his hand and introduced my fictitious self. He gave it a really good go, but could only had two experiences to note before everyone laughed and he sat back down.
It was a fun activity that gave them a taste of networking; this is something that the majority of students aren’t put up against until university. However, it made me realise how far I’ve come since I was 15, and how far everyone I know has, really. I remember going to my first meet and greet in first year with a load of solicitors and barristers and being so full of nerves. The conversation was relatively dry because I just didn’t know how to network. This is compared to nowadays where I’m juggling with solicitors and chatting to them with ease. It’s a skill I’ve had to really work on and the support you get for that sort of thing is next to nothing.
The Careers Development Service aid you in the sense of ‘no prep no entry’ to events, and the Law Society give you plenty of opportunities to develop these skills. Nevertheless, being able to present yourself to an employer and have a meaningful conversation is difficult, and something that so many of us struggle with. Where’s the formal education about such a key skill?
This experience made me realise how little confidence so many teenagers have in their abilities, and how much we need to empower them with knowledge and education. Expertise on how to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and how to speak to employers with confidence is key.
One girl was convinced she’d struggle to get anywhere because of how awkward she is. She shared an instance with me whereby at a shop one of the staff said “have a safe journey home!” to her, and she replied with “you too!” She was mortified. This programme gave me the opportunity to reassure her that even if you’re super socially awkward, you can still succeed.
I used to have this massive problem with whenever I got slightly embarrassed or self-conscious my whole face would go an intense red colour, which made me so awkward when talking to people. One of my favourite things, though, was public speaking – despite the fact I was a “tomato” (to quote the kids at school). I used to struggle with my words a lot when I first started public speaking. I would practice relentlessly for speeches until I knew every word. The first time, when I was 13, I was encouraged to do a spontaneous speech at Youth Council and I froze. I stuttered over a word for a full 30 seconds (THIRTY SECONDS?!) It was painful. But now I can give planned and spontaneous speeches with ease, and not go red. I can be myself and be awkward, when it’s appropriate, and be sentimental, and passionate, and people seem to think it’s endearing now. So I reassured her. Even when you get confused with your words, and are so embarrassed, you can still do anything that you put your mind to. All it takes is time and determination.
These kids had next to no confidence. They genuinely couldn’t see their worth. If only they could see themselves from the other side of the classroom as they had their discussions, they’d see the truth – they are all talented in their own individual way. Time will help, and no matter what someone’s age or experience we must continue to strive to empower others, to lift them up, and to show them their true value.
These teenagers will be the somethings of the future, and I can’t wait to see them shine.